APS and the brain

Lupus. 2003;12(12):877-82. doi: 10.1191/0961203303lu496oa.


Antiphospholipid antibody syndrome (APS) may present with neurological syndromes. Cerebrovascular disease, chorea/ballismus, epileptic seizures, headache, cognitive impairment, transverse myelopathy, Devic's syndrome and multiple sclerosis-like presentations feature among others. Cerebrovascular disease is one of the most common presenting symptoms of APS, second only to deep vein thrombosis, and accounts for half of neurological manifestations in patients with APS; accelerated atherogenesis and cardioembolism are the most likely mechanisms implicated. Though infrequent, chorea is consistently associated with APS; the pathogenetic role of antiphospholipid antibodies (APLab) in this case might be routed through cerebrovascular disease in some cases and through purely immunological pathways in others. Both ischemic and immunological mechanisms have been demonstrated in the pathogenesis of epileptic seizures, which may account for 7% of neurological manifestations in APS. Although frequent in APS, a causative link between APLab and most common types of headache (migraine and tension-type headache) is more than dubious. Cognitive impairment may derive from a well-defined clinical tableau of multi-infarct dementia. Nevertheless, (highly frequent) less severe cognitive impairment has also been associated with the presence of APLab in the absence of magnetic resonance findings. A relationship between APS and transverse myelopathy seems likely but small numbers in the studies published to date preclude definite statements; routinely testing for APLab patients with neurological manifestations suggestive of multiple sclerosis seems to be unrecommended at the present time.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Antiphospholipid / analysis
  • Antiphospholipid Syndrome / diagnosis*
  • Antiphospholipid Syndrome / epidemiology*
  • Antiphospholipid Syndrome / immunology
  • Central Nervous System Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Central Nervous System Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Comorbidity
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Lupus Vasculitis, Central Nervous System / diagnosis
  • Lupus Vasculitis, Central Nervous System / epidemiology
  • Lupus Vasculitis, Central Nervous System / immunology
  • Male
  • Prognosis
  • Risk Assessment
  • Severity of Illness Index


  • Antibodies, Antiphospholipid